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Erwan Queinnec and Pierre Desrochers

Academic research has generated many theoretical and empirical insights into how entrepreneurial actions can help achieve more environmentally desirable outcomes. Much ambiguity remains, however, between the junction of sustainability, market processes and entrepreneurship. On the one hand, academic researchers acknowledge the existence of numerous ‘win-win’ opportunities (i.e., that have both economic and environmental benefits). On the other, many theorists view sustainability awareness as a precondition of ‘green’ entrepreneurship taking place in markets characterized by ubiquitous failures. In the latter perspective, sustainable entrepreneurship can hardly be expected to be a widespread outcome of ‘business-as-usual’ market processes. This chapter challenges this perspective through a case study of industrial waste recycling in the nineteenth century. Summarizing much evidence on the issue, we illustrate how in the past, numerous entrepreneurs, managers and technicians practised what many sustainable development theorists now recommend. We suggest that the most significant driver of this process was the very logic of economic competition – that is, the search for increased (or at least constant) profitability. While our contention questions some of the core assumptions of mainstream entrepreneurship studies and environmental economics, it also offers a more optimistic perspective on humanity’s capacity to simultaneously improve standards of living and remediate environmental harm.